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Michelle May, M.D. Headshot

The Arrogance of Dieting

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Do you remember the iconic image of Oprah wheeling out a little red wagon filled with 67 pounds of fat in 1988? Or Kirstie Alley strutting on to Oprah's stage in a bikini in 2006? Or Valerie Bertinelli's bikini splash commercial in 2012?

These were dramatic examples of the arrogance of dieting.

What is the arrogance of dieting?
Perhaps you too have experienced some of these symptoms:

  • You talk incessantly about your diet, and what you eat or don't eat (or post it on social media).
  • You're sure that somehow this time (or this diet) will be different.
  • You secretly judge (or openly shame) others for their food choices, weight, or health status.
  • You think you're doing other people a favor by telling them what they should and shouldn't eat.
  • You feel that restaurants, your workplace and your friends and family should cater to your meal plan.
  • You assume that if people only knew what you knew, they'd be better off!
  • You assume that everyone else lacks willpower.
  • You believe that you've discovered the secret -- so you tell everybody!
  • You think weight and health can be reduced to a math problem.
  • You think you can override millions of years of evolution and outsmart your metabolism.
  • You think you can underfeed your body without consequences.
  • You think you can fool Mother Nature with fake foods and food substitutes.
  • You assume you are healthier (or more attractive) because you've hit an arbitrary number.
  • You believe that a case study of one is enough evidence to convince everyone else.

Arrogance followed by a fall
I don't know what it is about sticking to a diet for a few days (or a few years) or losing a few pounds (or hundreds) that causes most people to think they have it all figured out, but I have experienced the arrogance of dieting firsthand.

In Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat, I described my typical eat-repent-repeat cycle. I talked about feeling a little smug during the first week of my diet: "As I watched everyone else in the break room scarfing down doughnuts, I'd think, 'If they had self-control like me, they'd know those things are bad and they'd resist them, too.'"

Of course my arrogance was followed by a fall -- as arrogance usually is.

Like Oprah, Kirstie, Valerie and millions of others, I experienced shame when "the honeymoon was over," even without the burden of public scrutiny. I assumed, as these women all described in later interviews, that I had somehow failed the diet.

It never occurred to me back then that the diet had failed me.

If you have experienced the arrogance of dieting, you know that it not only contributes to the inevitable disappointment when the diet fails (as most do), it increases the shame that contributes to the downward spiral.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that dieters are arrogant. Having worked with thousands of people who have experienced the eat-repent-repeat cycle, I have tremendous compassion when I see this pattern unfolding. What I am saying is that there is arrogance built into the process of dieting, and it leads to problems in your relationships with others and especially yourself!

The Confidence of Body Wisdom
Trade in the arrogance of dieting for the confidence of body wisdom! Mindful eating is a non-judgmental, flexible approach that frees you up to focus on living your life instead of counting, weighing, measuring and obsessing about food.

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